Skip to main content

Coronavirus Listener Data: Music Streams & Digital Downloads See Gains as ‘Escape’ Markets Emerge

After two weeks of streaming declines as America was glued to cable news coverage of the coronavirus, consumers seem to be comfortably sheltered at home with music streams growing 2% to 24.8 billion…

After two weeks of declines in streaming as Americans stayed glued to cable news, music consumers finally seem to be comfortably sheltered at home with streams growing 2% to 24.8 billion for the week ended April 2, up from 24.3 billion a week before.

Yet while stability appears to be emerging, somewhat, for a U.S. music industry paralyzed by the coronavirus, last week’s performance was still down 2.9% from 2020’s peak when total streams numbered 25.55 billion. On the other hand, it was up 1.9% from the weekly streaming average of 24.34 billion for the 10 weeks ending March 12, the day the spit hit the fan when the bulk of pro sports leagues put a pin in their seasons.

For the year to date, overall streams are up 18.9% to 316.9 billion, versus 266.6 billion in the corresponding period of 2019.

Past Deep Dives Into Pandemic Listenership:

— Week Ending March 26: Video Still Rules, While Audio Streams Start to Trickle Back 

— Week Ending March 19: Coronavirus Causes Dip in Streaming, But Children’s Music, Video on Demand & Catalog Are Bright Spots

Video streams continue to accelerate with that category now up 27.1% for the year to 114 billion streams. So far this year, video streams have outperformed audio, in percentage growth for eight of the 13 weeks in the MRC Data/Nielsen year, with last week showing 3.2% growth to 10.09 billion streams as compared with the prior week when video totaled 9.78 billion. However, these dynamics may well soon shift as the way some services report video streams are expected to undergo a change that will be backdated to the beginning of the year.

Audio streams posted a 1.2% increase to 14.72 billion, but that comes on the heels when audio streams were down 3.2% for the week ending March 26; down 9% for the week ending March 19; and 1% for the week ending March 12. MRC Data’s Dave Bakula notes that “six of the seven days last week were positive over the prior week as consumers seem to have settled into their new consumption habits.”

Overall for the year, audio streams are up 14.7% to 202.85 billion, versus 176.8 billion for the year earlier period.


Looking at overall streams another way, catalog continues to outperform current offerings — meaning music less than 18 months old —  in terms of growth, with catalog streams up 2.6% to 15.99 billion from 15.57 billion for the week ended April 2. For the year-to-date overall, catalog streams are up 20.5% to 202.87 billion; from 168.3 billion streams in the corresponding period last year.

“We are seeing the first evidence of consumers digging a little deeper into catalog” music older than 18 months old, says Bakula with both catalog audio and video music shares of consumption at their highest point in the past 6 weeks. For the week ended April 2, catalog share of Music streams is now sitting at 64.5% of total Music streams, the highest since week-ending Feb 13, Bakula added.

Moving over to sales, albums plus track equivalent albums (TEA) were down 2% to 1.977 million from the prior week’s total of 2.02 million. However, that’s because sales are leveling off after the 25.6% drop the overall category experienced two weeks ago when sales hit an overall historic low of 1.98 million albums plus TEA units. Overall, album plus TEA units last week was down 20.6% from the nearly 2.5 million baseline average that category of consumption unit had through the first 10 weeks of 2020.

Looking at actual album sales, 1.474 million copies were sold, down 5.4% from the prior week when they totaled 1.56 million copies. By format, CDs were down 20.9% while vinyl album sales were up 17.7% to 213,000 unit, which means that overall physical albums were down 11.6%. According to a count by Alliance Entertainment, by the end of last week more than 500 indie stores were shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while chains like FYE and Barnes and Noble were mostly closed.


Moving over to downloads, digital albums were up slightly to 814,000 units. Likewise, tracks were up 9.3% to 5.03 million. The pandemic’s shutdown of many brick-and-mortar record stores has given digital downloads a reprieve from its otherwise precipitous declines this year. Last week the download revival was lead by 5 Seconds of Summer’s Calm, which scanned 81,000 album downloads in placing No. 2 on The Billboard 200; and the Weeknd’s After Hours, which drove 43,000 downloads, coming in again as the week’s No. 1 album. In the earlier period, downloads of that album totaled 167,000 copies.

So that means overall album consumption units last week totaled 12.54 million, up 0.5% from the prior week when that measurement totaled 12.47 million. But last week’s total was down 4% from the prior year. Nevertheless, overall album consumption units are up 9.3% for the year to 177.2 million, versus 162.12 million in the corresponding period in 2019.

Looking at specific genres, children’s music, which had been leading the industry over the prior two weeks, was the only style besides holiday music to see a dip (0.3%) for the week ending April 2. All other genres experienced an increase last week in keeping with recent trends, with latin, which had been the hardest hit genre in the first two weeks of the downturn, showing the biggest jump of the main genres with a 4.2% increase to 1.71 billion streams. Other genres posting an increase: rock up 2.8% to 3.37 billion; country up 2.5% to 1.47 billion; pop up 2.4% to 3.74 billion; and R&B/Hip-Hop up 0.7% to 7.39 billion.

All the increases were boosted primarily by video streaming performance, with the exception of pop where audio streams, up 4.1% to 2.034 billion, out-performed video streams, which were up a slight 0.5% to 1.71 billion. So as adults moved away from 24-hour cable news, it looks like kids’ dominance of music streaming was curtailed as they had to share time on streaming devices with parents.


Finally, looking at audio streams locally, there is further evidence of stabilization as the number of markets suffering a decline last week shrank further to 34 markets, versus 53 in the prior week and 105 markets down the week ending March 19, when the U.S. economic shutdown went into full swing.

Of the 10 main metropolitan areas initially hurt by mandated closures, only three experienced further declines last week: New York, down 0.2%; Seattle, down 2.5% and New Orleans down 2.9%. The other metropolitan markets, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago were all up, as were Miami, which had the biggest increase at 4.4% among those initial markets hardest hit by the economic shutdown.

In the meantime, last week brought forth a new trend among metro markets, according to Bakula. Looking at audio streams, “last week we started to see evidence of ‘escape’ markets,” Bakula noted, citing significant double-digit gains in markets outside of major metro areas — where people typically have vacation homes — such Palm Springs, Reno/Tahoe, Naples/Ft. Myers, Gulfport, Panama City and Savannah.